US Says Iran Complicit In Ship Hijacking By Yemeni Rebels, Mulls Houthi Terror Designation

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Nov 21, 2023 - 08:07 PM

Update(1507ET): The Biden White House is threatening to slap an official terror designation on Yemen's Houthi militia after it seized an Israel-linked cargo vessel in the Red Sea (details below).

On Tuesday, as 25 international crew are still being held hostage after Houthi militants boarded the vessel by helicopter Sunday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that "in light of ... the piracy of a ship in international waters, we have begun a review of potential terrorist designations and we’ll be considering other options together with our allies and partners as well."

Importantly, Kirby also directly alleged that Iran was complicit. The Houthis have expressly said that the seizure was in retaliation for Israel's onslaught on Gaza, which has killed some 13,000 Palestinians - mostly civilians. Per a White House press briefing:

Mr Kirby added that Iran was “complicit in its material support, and encouragement of the Houthi forces” and called on the group to “unconditionally” release the ship and its crew.

The Houthis earlier this month declared war on Israel, and have sent several drones and missiles toward southern Israel at this point. At least two of these projectiles have been intercepted by warships stationed in the Red Sea.

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Yemen's Houthi rebels have released dramatic video of their Sunday hijacking of the Galaxy Leader, a vehicle-transport ship whose owner is a subsidiary of a company owned by an Israeli billionaire.

The ship is still in their control, with 25 crew members of various nationalities held hostage and the vessel now in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.

The Red Sea incident received surprisingly little initial coverage by major media, considering it marked the opening of a new, maritime front in the multilateral regional conflict that erupted on Oct 7, when Palestinian Hamas militants invaded southern Lebanon, killing more than a thousand Israeli civilians and soldiers.   

Houthi soldiers fan out across the deck of the Galaxy Leader after being deployed on the vessel by a helicopter (Houthi video)

The Iran-aligned Houthis, who've been battling Yemen's Saudi-backed government since 2014, had already launched multiple drone and missile attacks on Israel in solidarity with Hamas and the people of Gaza. In announcing their seizure of the Galaxy Leader, the group said, “All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets.” 

“The detention of the Israeli ship is a practical step that proves the seriousness of the Yemeni armed forces in waging the sea battle, regardless of its costs and costs,” said Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul-Salam in a separate online statement. “This is the beginning.” About a fifth of the world's oil must traverse the narrow strait between Yemen and Djibouti.

Houthi drone attacks on Israel weren't very effective -- the sea offers a greater chance of having a major impact on Israel and the world

The professionally-produced, nearly four-minute Houthi video appears to have been shot from multiple cameras in the air and on the sea, including one mounted on the tail of a helicopter used to airlift the attackers onto the ship and others worn by the militants in action. 

It first shows a helicopter pursuing the 600-foot ship as it plows through the sea. Houthis then dismount the chopper atop the ship's deck, fire AK-47 rifles and make their way to the ship's bridge, where crew members surrender to them. In the final shot, the ship moving through the water, surrounded by several small watercraft. 

Maritime security company Ambrey tells the Times of Israel that the helicopter air assault tactic mirrors similar seizures perpetrated by Iran. The Houthis have declared themselves part of an "axis of resistance" against the Zionist state. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office characterized the hijacking as "an Iranian attack." Iran distanced itself from the incident. “We have repeatedly announced that the resistance groups in the region represent their countries and make decisions and act based on the interests of their countries,” said the foreign ministry's Nasser Kanani.

It appears there are no Israeli citizens on the ship, which was headed from Turkey to India. The crew includes Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Filipinos, Mexicans and a Romanian, The Times reports. The seized ship is operated by a Japanese company, Nippon Yusen. Japan's foreign minister says his diplomats are in direct contact with the Houthis, while also "urging Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, and other countries concerned to strongly urge the Houthis for the early release of the vessel and crew members.”

A member of the multi-national crew surrenders to the AK-wielding Houthi hijackers (Houthi video)

The Galaxy Leader is ultimately owned by Ray Car Carriers, which was founded by Abraham "Rami" Ungar. With an estimated 2019 net worth of more than $2 billion, he's among Israel's 30 wealthiest individuals. According to wiretaps, Ungar was involved in scheme in which he'd pay an employee of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert $10,000 a month in exchange for her refusal to testify against Olmert. 

In a sign that cargo shipping could be significantly disrupted by the Houthi hijacking and their open-ended threat for more to come, two ships affiliated with the same maritime group -- the Glovis Star and Hermes Leader -- changed course on Sunday, Reuters reported Monday night. 

Between Yemen and Djibouti, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a narrow choke point for one of the world's busiest shipping lanes 

Ships navigating between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and then the Indian Ocean must cross the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Its name translates to "Gate of Grief." The waterway is only 20 miles wide, divided into two channels -- one is 2 miles wide; the other, 16. 

With its multiple "first-person shooter" perspectives, the Houthi video led many people to think it must be fake...